Walking through schools as they prepare for a new flock of students, I never tire of the smells, sights, and sounds. The wax is shiney and new as I squeak along its reflective path. School wax has a distinctive smell that endures even as schools have embraced change after change. Although the exciting sounds of children have not yet flooded its halls, teachers have been busily preparing to welcome them home.
Chalkboards have hung from school walls from the very first Little House on the Prairie school house. The feel of chalk dust on my fingertips has been a comfort rather than an allergy to be avoided. As with many aspects of education, the chalkboard lost its place among the constants of school, and was replaced by the whiteboard with its efficient and allergy free, but headache inducing markers. Kids and teachers loved the whiteboard with its shiny sheen and lack of chalk dust, but its sterile nature seemed lacking.
Entering schools this past week, I noticed a shift. The whiteboards were still prominently displayed in the fronts and backs of classrooms, but now there was a shadow waiting to take its place back in the classroom: Chalkboard Paint. Chalkboard paint on cabinets, on doors, on teacher procured furniture. And it wasn’t just black chalkboard paint, it was rainbow colored. It seems that chalkboards are back and making a splash with color alongside its whiteboard nemesis.
As I reflected on my walks through schools in their many stages of preparation, I thought about those chalkboards and the old adage we hear about change: If you are in it long enough, you will see change come and go and come back around again. Yes, chalkboards changed to whiteboards and may be coming back again, but their return is marked by a refinement, a growth, that made them better. As we roll out changes, hopefully with, but many times for teachers, we need to be clear about how a change, although potentially a new iteration of a previous innovation, has been refined and enhanced. About how this change can be integrated into an already healthy collection of instructional strategies owned and created by teachers.
Change can be good, but under what conditions? When it builds on what teachers already know. When its rationale is clearly articulated. When teachers have some say, some level of input into how the change impacts them. When it is supported by quality professional development into which teachers have input. When there is time for inquiry, reflection, and collaboration. Teachers embrace change even when it comes around again in a new and improved form when they can see the benefits to their students, their own learning, their classroom.